Flames of Despair in Tibetan Protest for Human Rights

March 28, 2012

Lhamo Tso wife imprisoned Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen
Lhamo Tso, the wife of imprisoned Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, in New York, March 9, 2012. (Photo EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Tibetan exile Jampa Yeshi committed the ultimate act of protest Monday by setting himself on fire in New Delhi on the eve of Chinese President Hu Jintao’s visit to India.  Horrific photographs of his self-immolation [warning: graphic image] quickly spread around the world via the Internet and India’s dynamic press, galvanizing the cause of Tibetans fighting to draw international attention to human rights violations committed by the Chinese government in Tibet.

Although Yeshi was one of nearly 30 Tibetans who have set fire to themselves over the past year to protest Chinese government policies, outsiders have rarely seen such agonizingly clear documentation of the immolations before now.

The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, who has resided in exile in Dharamsala, India, since the late 1950s, has characterized the immolations as an act of desperation by a people whose way of life is being systematically destroyed by the Chinese government. Predictably, the Chinese government accused the Dalai Lama of inciting the immolations, which it calls acts of terrorism.

The Chinese government has also crushed attempts by Tibetans who have sought to document their struggle for human rights. Four years ago today, filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, was producing a documentary on the opinions of Tibetans regarding the Beijing Olympics and the Dalai Lama when he was arrested and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for “subversion of state power” after a secret trial by Xining City Intermediate Court in Qinghai province.

During his initial detention, Wangchen was beaten, punched in the head, deprived of food and sleep and kept tied to a chair for long periods of time. Wangchen also suffers from Hepatitis B and has been denied medical treatment. Chinese authorities have barred Wangchen from seeing family members and from meeting with his lawyers.

Wangchen’s wife, Lhamo Tso, traveled from Dharamsala to New York City in early March to share her story—and by extension, the stories of Tibetans who have been in exile for decades—with Amnesty International supporters. Please join Amnesty International in urging the Chinese government to provide Wangchen with the medical attention he urgently needs and to immediately release him and all other prisoners of conscience.

Follow me on Twitter at @gringostani for more human rights information on South Asia. 

James Zimmerman, China Country Specialist, and Ulana Moroz, Individuals at Risk, contributed to this post.